Tobacco Asia

Volume 20, Number 2

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54 tobaccoasia / Issue 2, 2016 May / June) By Chris Bickers US Tobacco Cooperative: A New Identity with an Emphasis on Marketing US Tobacco Cooper (USTC), the former Flue-Cured Tobacco Coop., is no longer just the "buyer of last resort" for unsold US leaf – USTC now has the best growers and the best flue-cured tobacco. Nearly 12 years ago, the Flue-Cured Tobacco Co- operative Stabilization Corporation lost its role as an association that administered parts of the old US federal price support program when the Fair and Equitable Tobacco Reform Act brought the program to an end. In the ensuing years, the co- operative has embarked on a rebranding mission that has made the tobacco industry aware of its new identity. But further awareness is needed, and a nearly all new management team lead by chief executive officer Stuart Thompson is making it happen. "The challenge we have now is to completely change the mindset about the cooperative, so that we can be seen as a progressive sales and mar- keting organization," says Thompson. "The old 'stabilization culture' is dead, and we want to be recognized as a company totally committed to ex- cellence." One big step in that direction was to adopt a new name: In 2008, the cooperative renamed it- self US Tobacco Cooperative (USTC). And another was to begin to produce tobacco products for the consumer as well leaf: In 2004, the cooperative bought what had been the Vector Tobacco fac- tory in Timberlake, NC, and since 2006 has made cigarettes and other tobacco products. However, despite all this, there is an impres- sion in some parts of the tobacco industry that USTC deals only in leaf that has trouble being sold. That is in part because of impressions still held about the cooperative from its old days as a loan association. In those years, Stabilization was responsible for absorbing leaf that could not be sold on the market and holding it for later sale. Thompson himself joined USTC in 2011, sev- eral years after the end of Federal Tobacco Pro- gram, serving first as USTC's chief financial of- ficer, moving to the position of chief executive officer in 2014. "It's true that while the price support program was in effect, the cooperative was the buyer of last resort," says Thompson. "We have since done a full 180 [degree turn] when it comes to our market

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